Environmental management invariably raises complex and difficult issues. Economists usually tend to differ with environmentalists. While economists tend to look at the short-term, environmentalists emphasise the long-term. While growth and prosperity are important for the former, balance and harmony are the guiding principles for the latter. But the twain must meet. Sustained use of natural resources is not possible without an appropriate economic framework. Nor can economies sustain themselves without taking good care of their environment.
A slow and steady change is taking place within the community of economists, which is beginning to appreciate the importance of environmental concerns. A seminar organised by the Centre for Science and Environment which brought together leading Indian economists interested in the environment, revealed that two issues are increasingly coming to the fore: One, empowerment of communities to manage their resource base; and, two, getting prices right so that consumption patterns do not get distorted towards misuse or overuse.
The issue of community empowerment was emphasised in several ways. Filipino economist Sixto Roxas even argued for a new national accounting system based on accounts of communities rather than accounts of companies, which externalise social and ecological costs. Imagine separate accounts of every village and every city, each with its own stock of natural resources and human-made machines, and each community a sovereign republic with full control over the use of its environment. Would the world then be full of any more chaos than a million firms taking decisions in a free market, all of which, if you happen to be a free market ideologue, are supposed to lead up to the common good of all? There is no reason to believe that economic decision-making in the world must be enterprise-based. It can work just as well if it is community-based.
Down To Earth features adaptations of three provocative papers presented at the seminar